How to check contractors work?
April 16, 2010 10:49 AM   Subscribe

We are having a detached garage built. I already chose a contractor. How do I make sure the work being done is up to code and correct?

Closing on the new house is set May 7th and we added in the option to build a new garage and rolled the cost into the house. Instead of choosing the sellers builder (He blatantly told me he would go against code/zoning laws to make me happy) and chose one of 6 I called. So far he has been very responsive and seems to know his stuff. I am not a contractor, so how do I check on his work? I am handy, and I can tell if the framing is off or if the concrete work is incorrect, but I am no professional. I told him I would be checking on the site regularly and he said he absolutely welcomes it and has no issue. So what do I look out for? How can I get a crash course in acceptable building practices and local code? Property is in a suburb of Portland, OR if it matters.
posted by NotSoSimple to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Hire a home inspector to look it over when it is complete. Having a garage inspected should be pretty cheap compared to a whole house.
posted by kindall at 10:51 AM on April 16, 2010

Presumably, you have to have a permit for the work? (You would around here, anyway.) If so, the city can inspect the progress along the way. They'd also be required to inspect it afterwards to ensure that it was compliant. (Again, around here.)

Another note -- isn't it the contractor's responsibility to make sure the work is up to code? Can you just tell the contractor that you want to make sure everything is done by the books?
posted by mudpuppie at 11:03 AM on April 16, 2010

Not sure what it's like in your neck of the woods but around here any structure bigger than a small shed is going to need a permit. Make sure he pulls all permits needed. The building inspector will have to sign off on it; if something isn't up to code he should catch it.
posted by bondcliff at 11:04 AM on April 16, 2010

You almost certainly need a permit for the work, which mean you / contractor would have to submit plans to the city, who will review them to be sure the design is up to code.

Once you have a permit, an inspector will have to sign off on things at several points on the project to make sure things are being put together properly before letting the builders move on to the next step.
posted by jjb at 11:21 AM on April 16, 2010

Yes permits are required. However I have seen too many contractors get permits but still somehow half ass the work, requiring some overhauling be done a short time later. Can I call the city and check on what permits he has been granted? Can I ask him for them?
posted by NotSoSimple at 11:48 AM on April 16, 2010

Call you local county / city permitting office and ask about complaints or violations tied to the contractor. When we had a basement finished we called our local office and the director offered up that he had hired our contractor to do his basement a couple of years prior. Can't get much more of an endorsement than that!
posted by COD at 12:15 PM on April 16, 2010

Not sure where you live, but I'm pretty sure your local jurisdiction will give you information on your building permit and how it will progress. I'm not sure they'll keep official track of complaints or violations against a contractor, unless it's so egregious as to suggest he has his license revoked, and they really shouldn't be giving recommendations on people either. At least in my neck of the woods, that's seen as unfair endorsement.

If you're concerned about this guy, ask for a list of references, and call them yourself. You could even contact your local jurisdiction to ask how those buildings went through the building inspection process.

You shouldn't have to pay someone after-the-fact to inspect the house, as that is the role of your jurisdiction's building inspectors, and a home inspector couldn't see how things were installed inside the walls, if your garage will be finished at all. Of course, the contractor can do shady things, like replace proper materials with with lower grade after the inspector signs it off, but by talking to folks who have used his services in years past, you should be able to get an idea of how things went.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:28 PM on April 16, 2010

Where I live, the permit is in the homeowner's name, not the contractor's, so you would have free access to all the information the city had.

One thing to think about: Call the city, explain that you're having work done by a contractor (for the first time), that you want to make sure it's in compliance with all applicable local ordinances and codes, and ask them how you can best go about ensuring that it is. I bet they'd be more than happy to give you some advice. It's in their best interest to do so.
posted by mudpuppie at 1:24 PM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Another thought -- the licensing board for Oregon contractors lets you search contractors by name. Once you find the guy you hired, you can look at his record to see if he has any disciplinary actions or administrative actions, or if he has been involved in dispute resolution.

If nothing else, this might alleviate some of your worry.
posted by mudpuppie at 1:29 PM on April 16, 2010

What mudpuppie said. The city will tell you what permits you need, and they should be posted at the job site, so that is easy enough to verify. You can also ask the contractor to inform you when he has inspections scheduled so that you can be there for them.
posted by indyz at 1:40 PM on April 16, 2010

If it isn't done correctly it won't pass inspection at several points. The city sends people to physically check. The only question you need to answer is whether your contract with the contractor includes something along the lines of "things will be done to code, and if they aren't, those things will be fixed."
posted by odinsdream at 6:15 PM on April 16, 2010

There are two issues here. The city/county will inspect construction for code-compliance. With some exceptions, they will not inspect for quality of construction. They will tell you if the construction materials are of the correct type (stud grade, not utility grade for instance) and installed in the right manner (sixteen inches on center, not thirty inches for instance). What you need is not an after-the-fact inspector. See if there is an inspection service in your town that does construction inspection during the various phases of a project. These should, at the minimum, be at the foundation/slab phase, right after framing (for plumb, line and warpage, when the roof is sheathed and covered, and at finish set. They will know what these terms mean and may suggest other inspections. They should be able to do it for around fifty dollars per visit.
posted by Old Geezer at 6:21 PM on April 16, 2010

While requiring permits to be pulled is a good first step they aren't a blanket protection against shoddy or incorrect construction. First the inspector doesn't check everything, only important steps. Second they often allow remediations with out re-inspection. And third, at least around here, even work that theoretically requires inspection is often self inspected. EG: When a local licenced electrician calls for an inspection the inspection authority has two working days to perform the inspection. If an inspector doesn't show up in that window the job automatically passes. Finally a house built to code is the worst possible house the law will allow, good construction will exceed code in many ways.

The first thing to do is make daily inspections yourself; even if you don't know what is going on. Just having someone checking there work will motivate some people to do proper work. If you don't know anything about construction hiring an architect is an option though a fairly pricey one. Overseeing a project like this will often cost you a significant percentage of the total cost.

Education is cheaper; In Canada the CMHC book Canadian Wood-Frame House Construction which is a very good step by step construction guide + a construction term dictionary is only C$30. Similar books probably exist in the US.
posted by Mitheral at 11:46 AM on April 17, 2010

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